I was on the road for 8 hours over last 2 days, lots of podcasts.

I listened to Tim Ferriss speaking to Jason Fried.  Jason seems an interesting character – professes to have no goals as he learnt at a young age that setting and aiming at goals only served to detract from his joy of life.  I don’t think his approach works for everyone, but I do think I have something to learn from his attitude of learning to enjoy and contribute rather than focus on task completion.

One sentence really hit me as he said it:

“In schools, you don’t learn to iterate. You complete the task, you hand it in, and you are done. In life, iteration is everything.” Jason Fried

When I heard this I repeated “iteration is everything” over and over for a few miles… because I completely agree.  Why am I good at giving a speech?  Iteration.  I get to speak hundreds of times every year.  Writing?  this blog.  I write hundreds of posts, edit them, improve them, republish them… each iteration is a slight improvement.

There is a story from Toyota in the 1980s.  Globally they decided to implement an employee suggestion scheme, but they left it up to each national leadership team to decide how to implement the scheme.

In the US, the leadership decided to pay 2% of the value of the change once implemented.  Imagine you are working on the factory floor of a Toyota plant in US.  What type of ideas are you looking for?  You will get 2% of the value of the change…  big ideas, huge ideas!

In the US they received an average of 1.5 ideas per employee of which less than 10% were actually implemented.

In Japan, the leadership decided to pay $50 for every idea.  Imagine you are there on the floor of the Japanese factories.  What type of ideas are you looking for?  Small ideas, little improvements, anything that slightly improves the efficiency or quality of life of the factory.

In Japan, they received an average of 55 ideas per employee, of which around 70% were implemented.  Within 2 years the Japanese operations were so much more efficient that they took the new Japanese operations and re-implemented them around the world.

Iteration is Everything

All excellence is from iteration. World class musicians play a piece hundreds of times with small improvements (or just changes) with each iteration. Sports is repetitive. My speaking is repetitive.

What piece of old writing could you dust off and improve 1% and produce a new iteration?  What skill could you focus 5 minutes each day on iteration?  What animal have you always wanted to be able to draw… draw a bad version today and iterate every day for the next month…

How to practice iteration… Check out this from Jason The Writing Class I’d Love to Teach

This video is from Bilbao in front of the Guggenheim Museum. I was in Bilbao for the launch of Vistage in the region.

In my courses I often have participants who hate following standard processes. Sometimes this is a good thing. When you decide to break the rules, you better do your homework and preparation so that what you deliver is excellent. Too often, “creative” people break the rules of structure… but don’t do the necessary work to be excellent in delivery.

If you liked this video, you might also like Performance Excellence: Deliberate Practice and the 3 Models of Mastery and Self Discipline will make you a Better Leader.

This video is from up in the French Pyrenees.  It is about learning to ski.

It takes a few days of hard knocks to get to a level where you can even basically enjoy it.

The skills that turn out to be passions in your life, they will take time to develop. Many people give up after 1 day of frustration – they give up on skiing, they give up on speaking in public, they give up on learning a new language.

The easy stuff gets boring quickly. The harder skills can give a lifetime of enjoyment… if you can get through the initial pain.

If you liked this post, you will also like What is the hardest thing you ever had to work for? and Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life.

What skills are you working to improve in 2018?  What areas of your life will you dedicate time and energy to make changes? I’d love to hear in the comments below…

I'd love you to leave a comment and tell me the answer to this question: Who is the most enthusiastic person that you know? 

Thanks, Conor

Last night, I asked a retired inspector of schools: “What makes a great school?”

His answer… “Music.”

He said that infallibly he would find a thriving musical scene in every great school that he had visited.

When you are surrounded by enthusiastic people, you are willing to take risks and learn; brave tries are celebrated. When you are surrounded by cynics and apathetic people you don’t take risks and any effort at bravery is laughed at and mocked.

On Friday I attended the YouTube Creators day in Barcelona. It struck me just how powerful a room full of enthusiastic people can be. There was no cynicism and no apathy. All efforts at Learning, trying and courage to take risks were celebrated.

Making movies #YouTube

A post shared by Conor Neill (@cuchullainn) on

PS My own answer is: Florian Mueck (http://www.florianmueck.com/florian/)

This is a story about a lost tribe in Papua New Guinea.

They were brought to the city of Singapore and shown skyscrapers, airports, factories, supermarkets, homes and life. When they were on their way back to their mountain village, they were asked: “What is the most incredible thing you have seen during your days in Singapore?”.

Watch this video to hear their answer…

If you are reading this via email, the video is here: The Story of the Wheelbarrow: We are blind to anything beyond our imagination

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Overlooking the White House

I was in Washington DC the last 6 days teaching on the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Leadership Academy 2016.  We had 28 leaders from all around the world – China, Nepal, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Canada, Germany, Australia, USA, UK.  The White House was being prepared for the inauguration of the next US President.

Christophe Magnussen is an inspiring entrepreneur from Germany. We made a short video up on the roof of our hotel, overlooking the winter evening sky of Washington DC.

Interview with Christoph Magnussen

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: Interview with Christoph Magnussen

Christoph has some great tips on entrepreneurship and productivity over on his youtube channel.  I like the work he puts in to making the videos engaging and fast moving.

The Key to a Killer Keynote Talk

Here, Christoph took some time with another Leadership Academy attendee, Rich Mulholland from South Africa to discuss how to become a better keynote speaker:

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: Interview Rich Mulholland

Don’t waste time in meetings

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: Don’t waste time in meetings

If you can’t sell, you can’t lead

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: If you can’t sell, you can’t lead

How to effective work Remotely

If you are seeing this by email, here is the video: How to effective work Remotely

The mission of the IESE Business School, where I teach about 1,000 EMBA, MBA and Senior Management participants each year, is to “develop leaders who aspire to have a deep, lasting and positive impact on people, firms and society” and I have spent a lot of the last 13 years attempting to find a way to achieve this mission.

A leadership decision will always look wrong from somebody’s perspective.  Leadership decisions are always difficult because they play off between values.  We learn from Homer’s great hero Odysseus is that a leadership decision is always a decision between two bad outcomes.  If one path led to a good outcome, then the decision is an excel spreadsheet decision…  not a leadership decision.  Leadership will always be hard because you can never be right from all perspectives.

What stops someone developing as a leader?  What is the single greatest obstacle we face in developing Leaders?

Self-Delusion.

We are born aware of how we view others, but unaware of how others view us.

Some learn quickly to see how others see them.

Some never learn.

Some face an insurmountable challenge (psychologists call this a “boundary experience”) and realise that it is they themselves that must change.  It is they themselves that act in ways that make their goals unachievable.  It is only a major failure in their life that forces them to reflect and see that they are responsible for the behaviours that are causing failure.

Overcoming Self-Delusion

How do those institutions that develop leaders open human beings up to the nature of their self-delusion?  How do I as a teacher help someone realise that they don’t know everything?

I was reading “Return on Character”, a book by Fred Kiel this week – it is a 10 year study into the financial impact of having a leader who behaves with 4 “leadership character qualities”.  He worked with many CEOs.  He surveyed the CEOs, and he surveyed the direct reports of CEOs.

  • Great CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 80%.
  • Poor CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 50%.

Every one of his CEOs think they show these 4 categories of behaviour over 80% of the time…

  • Integrity – clear sense of right & wrong; tells the truth; seeks the truth
  • Responsibility – self control; fixes own mistakes
  • Forgiveness – cooperation; conflict resolution
  • Compassion – empathy; builds attachments; shows and receives affection

And, by the way, the answer was yes, leadership character matters to direct reports.  In a big way.

The Challenge of Self-Delusion

An individual is delusional about their qualities as a leader.  

This is the teaching challenge – students do not believe that they have poor behaviours around integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. 

How do you get people to realise that they are not as good as they think they are?  (how to get them to actually listen to direct reports and to team mates feedback?)  Now… that is our teaching challenge.

Creative Indifference

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My daughter checking the roses in my parent’s garden

A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way.  The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.

The bad gardener fights what arises.  The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.

The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.

In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting!  I wouldn’t have expected that.”  Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.

Good Teaching as Good Gardening

I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.

Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.

A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way.  Nature is difference.  Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.

I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions.  I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.

We collect habits, items, people that served us in a given moment, but are not serving us now.  Human beings come pretty well designed for Systematic Accumulation, adding more and more plans, projects, dreams to my bucket list.

As we move through life we accumulate dreams, fantasies, projects, stuff.  I often think about what else I would like to add to my life, but rarely think about what to let go.

I joined a private conference with Professor Ernesto Beibe last night.  He spoke about “middle age” and the challenges that a person faces as they enter the period of life called “middle aged”.

His metaphor was that life is like climbing a mountain – but the summit is not death, the summit is middle age.  The idea is that all the way growing up our whole world view was what we had already seen, but as we stand on the summit for the first time in our lives we have a glimpse of what is way down the other side of the mountain – we now know and believe that life is finite, time is finite, resources are finite.

Systematic Abandonment

The challenge we have is to let go of all the dreams, fantasies and projects that we have collected in our walk up the mountain of life and decide which projects will get the focus.

Accepting that I will not achieve some of my dreams is painful.

What do you do to let go of dreams, projects, plans that are no longer realistic to achieve?

I once believed I would play football for Manchester United.  I remember the day that Ryan Giggs took to the field at age 17 and I knew that my dream was never, ever going to happen.  It wasn’t so hard to let it go because football had become less and less important to me as I went from 7 to 17.

The equation for human performance is the following:

Performance = Potential – Self-Sabotage

Photo Credit: Heberger Site via Compfight cc
Blowing myself up, Photo credit: Heberger Site

That is it. You achieve not what your boss lets you, not what the others let you… you achieve what you don’t screw up for yourself.

In the years since I first wrote this equation up in a class and people said “No… it can’t be that” I have become more and more convinced that the greatest devil in our own lives is the 4 Arts of Self Sabotage.

The 4 Arts of Self-Sabotage

  1. Distraction: Lack of Focus
  2. Fixed mindset: “I have what I have now because of who I am, not how hard I have worked”
  3. Arrogance: sometimes seen as Denial, sometimes as Nostalgia, sometimes as Victim, sometimes as Sole Hero
  4. Inability to Handle Anxiety (or anger, or rage, or fear)

Success in life, whether sporting success, writing success or financial success has more to do with overcoming these 4 arts of self-sabotage than any level of original brilliance or one-time shots of luck.